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The association between happiness and cognitive function in the UK Biobank


Feelings of happiness have been associated with better performance in creative and flexible thinking and processing. Less is known about whether happier individuals have better performance on basic cognitive functions and slower rate of cognitive decline. In a large sample from the UK Biobank (N = 17,885; Age 40–70 years), we examine the association between baseline happiness and cognitive function (speed of processing, visuospatial memory, reasoning) over four assessment waves spanning up to 10 years of follow-up. Greater happiness was associated with better speed and visuospatial memory performance across assessments independent of vascular or depression risk factors. Happiness was associated with worse reasoning. No association was found between happiness and the rate of change over time on any of the cognitive tasks. The cognitive benefits of happiness may extend to cognitive functions such as speed and memory but not more complex processes such as reasoning, and happiness may not be predictive of the rate of cognitive decline over time. More evidence on the association between psychological well-being and different cognitive functions is needed to shed light on potential interventional efforts.

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Data used in this study are publicly available from the UK Biobank.


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This work was supported by the National Institute on Aging at the National Institutes of Health (grant numbers R01AG068093, R01AG053297, R01AG074573). The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health. This research has been conducted using the UK Biobank Resource (Application Reference Number 57672).

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Authors and Affiliations



Conceptualization and Methodology: Xianghe Zhu and Antonio Terracciano; Formal analysis and Writing – original draft: Xianghe Zhu; Writing – review & editing: Martina Luchetti, Damaris Aschwanden, Amanda A. Sesker, Yannick Stephan, Angelina R. Sutin, and Antonio Terracciano; Funding acquisition and Project administration: Angelina R. Sutin and Antonio Terracciano.

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Correspondence to Xianghe Zhu.

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Ethical approval

This study used publicly available, de-identified data from the UK Biobank (, and was thus exempted from additional review by the Institutional Review Board at the Florida State University. The UK Biobank obtained ethical approval from the North West Multicenter Research Ethics Committee.


All individual participants of the UK Biobank signed informed consent on participation.

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The authors have no relevant financial or non-financial interests to disclose.

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Zhu, X., Luchetti, M., Aschwanden, D. et al. The association between happiness and cognitive function in the UK Biobank. Curr Psychol (2023).

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  • Cognitive function
  • Happiness
  • Positive affect
  • Well-being
  • Longitudinal study